Panamanians live for their annual Carnaval celebration. The festivities kick off this year on Saturday, February 21th and run until the next Tuesday the 24th of February. Most people actually celebrate carnaval from the 20th to the 25th. Carnaval is marked by parades, parties and heavy drinking.
Carnaval can be overwhelming for the first-timer. Small towns in Panama’s interior will at least double in size during the festival. The Azuero peninsula is where many residents of Panama City will head for the party. Las Tablas, in Panama’s Los Santos province is one of the most popular locations to celebrate carnaval. The town, with a year round population of about 10-thousand, grows to nearly 100-thousand.
The days of carnaval are characterized by hitting the town square around 10am to take part in the culecos. A culeco is when huge water tankers park on the side streets of the town square and spray the crowds with water from huge fire hoses. Though it sounds a little weird, it really is a great way to cool off under the hot Panama sun. People stand in the square with their coolers full of drinks and party the morning and afternoon away. The parade of carnaval queens takes place in the afternoon as well.
Around 5pm the police tend to close off the square to enable cleaning crews to tidy up the park. The square is reopened again in the evening. In the meantime, exhausted and wet revelers head home for a bite to eat and a quick nap. Round #2 begins in the evening. The outdoor bars open and the streets and squares fill to the bursting point. At midnight each night, the parade of queens is repeated.
Preparations for carnaval take place year round. From figuring out the parade route in Panama City to building the elaborate floats and dresses for the queens. This time of year is also a great opportunity for locals to earn some extra cash. Many people in Panama’s smaller interior towns are willing to rent out their houses to out-of-towners. There are still a few houses available to rent in Las Tablas during carnaval, but don’t expect to leave your accommodations to the last minute.
For those tourists who will be visiting during carnival, keep in mind that most businesses will be closed. The exceptions are hotels, restaurants, bars and other tourist attractions.
Though the carnaval experience can be overwhelming, it really is a not to miss experience. Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and try not to get lost in the crowds and your carnaval experience should be a great one.
|Written by Rebecca Tyre|
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